Dijana Smajlović is a journalist and anchor with the Žepče radio. She is engaged in a number of projects, and many associations, as she loves to fight for the rights of young people and children. I talked to her on everything she was doing, including activities of associations with offerings for the youth in Žepče.
Since I’m from Zenica, I came to Žepče in 2000, a town of returnees. Around that time, life began to return to normal but it was a very depressing town. There were no events for youth whatsoever, no life really except a few cafes.
Considering that I’d worked in the Bosnian National Theatre in Zenica as an actress and worked on Zetel TV, I wanted in a way to breathe some life into young people. I was looking around for any kind of children’s scene, anything for young actors. There was no such thing at that time. Not even the Culture House had worked with some capacity, maybe one movie every six months and that was it. When the management of the Žepče Culture House changed, the-then Director Marinko Kelavić heard of a Dijana in town who once worked at the theatre and he invited me for a talk. We came up with the idea of making a children’s programme, a youth programme for children in Žepče and at the time it was a boom at that time. That was in 2005.
So we started that whole project. It was in fact love and desire to gather children in one place. Considering that Žepče was at that time an ethnically divided city, somehow that line between Croats and Bosniaks was felt, sorry to put it like that, we wanted to gather these children in one place, that there was no difference between them, to socialise and get to know each other.
We started our activities and the children’s programme at the time was indeed flourishing. We had a lot of members and immediately went to do serious projects. Although we first went to the small school of acting, I was trying to get those children on stage as soon as possible so as to get the sense of that first applause, to know the feeling. The first show was done and children were delighted least to say.
After that we went to a competition in Gračanica where we won the second place out of 18 towns participating, for our debut. It’s become something recognisable in this town. It was interesting since there was absolutely nothing for children and young people for a long time. New members joined us, they also wanted to feel the magic of the scene.
Then other associations of youth and in general citizens’ associations started emerging. In my desire to try to gather the children in one place, I almost pushed them into every association, led purely by desire to get them off the street. That was my primary desire.
Bit by bit, I started working on youth issues in every aspect and to the extent possible, and today, I am a member of the Association Spektar. Last year, this association had a project on my initiative to talk about peer violence. Unfortunately, we were moved by the tragic death of Harun Mujkić from Zenica, a boy who tragically lost his life.
We know that in our cities all over BiH, in schools, there are such things happening that unfortunately are being pushed under the carpet. I’ll never understand why teachers, school principals and others, for the sake of their petty interests, is it out of fear from parents or other reasons, put their children in Russian roulette.
If one child is labelled as a bully and is known as that kind of child, and if parents complained, I didn’t notice schools overly trying to sanction it in any way.
So I wanted to speak out about if openly. Professor Elharun Selimović, a prominent psychologist was a guest at this public debate. We intentionally invited him as a guest for it is a very sensitive topic and we could find answers to our questions in his lecture. I wanted this to be an interactive, not a standard lecture, as a discussion between two persons, so we did an interactive workshop with our fellow citizens.
It was also attended by a pedagogue in the Mixed Secondary School Asima Nalić and myself, as someone who’s in the world of media. I wanted to share my perspective on the media reporting on all these cases.
So we did rock a boat a bit. After that, we had talks also with school principals. They too could see that the situation is somewhat defused, that those bullies were now keeping a low profile. As to our story having an impact in the public, did they recognise themselves in all this, I don’t know, but my primary goal was to raise awareness. And maybe then we will succeed. I’m still working on it and I’m generally engaged on somehow involving our children in any of the amazing things happening in our town.
What else is there for Žepče youth?
When it comes to the entire area of the Žepče Municipality, there are some 40 associations, according to official data. At least 10 to 15 work on youth issues. The Association Spektar often has a variety of activities for young people. Two years ago, the Association Eureka had an interesting project, paraglider jumps, the Mountaineering Association Vis has fantastic activities for youth. We have a mountain in Žepče – the Matinski vis hill and up there’s a mountain lodge. The gentleman running this mountaineering association is a true lover of nature, a man whom everyone needs to meet in life, Mr. Mirko Matijević. And he is amazingly fond of children and he is working hard to bring the children together around the mountaineering association and they have trips to the Matiniski vis hill. They spend time in this lodge, cook beans, traditional sarma dish, it’s really fun.
Culture and arts association are really active in our area. The Culture and Arts Association Slovo o Žepču, which I’m also a member of has a really incredible number of members. We have over 30 new members and we literally have two-year-olds. We do our best to take these children somewhere outside of the boundaries of their towns and country. We strive in every way possible to take them everywhere, to get to know different cultures, customs, to get familiar with their generation and peers of different ethnicities, regardless of religion and sex, and I believe we can do it.
This is what I say for our cultural art society, but other cultural and art associations that we cooperate with are equally active.
In your opinion, how to keep young people in BiH, because it is now almost a trend when almost everyone is leaving?
Unfortunately, it is difficult to give an objective answer here. I’ll try to answer with a joke of mine, when my 12-year-old daughter asked me, “Mom, what will my child learn in school in history? Will it be about Bakir, Dodik, and Čović?” Then I laughed and said, “If you’re smart enough, your child will learn about Angela Merkel.”
That’s my view, but we really have to work to keep young people and I believe that this is a painstaking job that must involve the entire community. It can’t be down to individuals, it has to start from the top of the state.
Unfortunately, at the very top of our government there is but a deaf ear for the youth. I’ve also looked at activities and reform agendas, but there is little mention of youth issues.
Young people do not see their future here as their livelihoods are brought into question. Jobs first. Young people first need to have a way to get to jobs.
Authorities don’t hear that. I have the feeling that our politicians do not understand that their voters are those very children, if they want to keep their posts. It’s easy to be in power for ten years if you have a machine that will definitely vote for you no matter what. However, biology does its job. The time will come when your voters won’t be able to vote and you need new blood. Young people from their early age see what’s happening at the state level and so on, and they see their future probably in a better place.
When I talk to my daughter or my children with actors or those from the culture and arts association, let’s just say that for them it’s abstract to understand how someone gets to go to the coast for 10 days. Unfortunately, this is an abstraction for our children. So we need to offer them something that would keep them here.
What can we offer them? Primarily quality education, which unfortunately is not available in BiH. We need programmes for young people to recognise young talents, some personalised approach to children. We have talents, we have good quality youth, but we do not recognise them and we don’t give them a chance. We need to give them a chance to shine. But how to do it – I don’t know how.
We work as individuals as much as we can but still it has to reach a higher level. And ultimately after education, to give them the opportunity to make their dreams come true, whatever it is that they see themselves in, instead of being just a number on the employment office, waiting to be called to accept any job – I’m a graduate lawyer but tomorrow I’ll work in the bakery. We need to move away from this kind of thinking and to offer that to the young people. But how to do it – believe I’m not very optimistic.